Sunday, March 9, 2008
Second Nature: Cattle and Bison
William Cronon talks about the distinction between first and second nature and how the two sometimes blur together. This reminds me of something I saw during my work a couple summers ago studying elk calf survival in Montana. We had to track and follow the elk all over. Sometimes this meant a foray deep into the forested mountains but sometimes it meant a visit to one of the local ranches where elk often came to graze. One particular ranch that we went to was owned by a guy who not only owned cattle, but somehow managed to keep bison around as well. As we drove in through the gates we were immediately met by herds of cattle/bison and their calves right up next to the fence and roads. They mingled together completely and it was amazing to watch the calves romp around together, bison and bovine all mixed up. They were so similar and also so funny to watch. They would stop and stare at the truck with a stubborn look and then as soon as you got close would bolt away. The way to tell them apart was that the bison calves, aside from having a slightly different color, had a little hump on their shoulders and looked like rocking horses when they ran. Otherwise it was just a mixture of wild and domesticated, first and second nature, blended together on a strange but beautiful ranch.